Nolan's seeks federal aid, faces skepticism, in bid to rise from the ashes

October 10, 2017 10:12 PM

The owner of Nolan's restaurant in Canandaigua, destroyed by fire in July, predicted growth, more jobs, and more tax revenue for the city if the restaurant receives community development aid to rebuild, as skeptics question such a use a public money.

"From my perspective, the answer is 'yes,' it's appropriate,'" Nick Violas, co-owner of Nolan's told News 10 NBC. "I believe we are a worthy candidate for a grant."

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On Friday, the City of Canandaigua formally filed a request to the state Office of  Community Renewal asking for funding under the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

The application, prepared by Nolan's consultant The Harrison Studio, asks for $400,000 to support the rebuilding, refurnishing, re-equipping and restaffing of the business plus $16,000 for the city to handle administrative costs.

Nolan's burned down on July 13 in a fire ruled accidental. To replace it, citing what he said was steady and promising growth since its opening in 2011, Violas proposed building a bigger restaurant, a new, larger event space, and an expanded catering business which he said would provide more jobs and more tax revenue for the city.

"It becomes an arithmetic problem for people to debate on what makes the most sense," he said.

The application for CDBG funds did in deed incite debate as other business owners questioned the use of public money for a private business.

"As a business person, I don't ask other people to fund my business," said Josette Vest, who grew up in Canandaigua and declared herself a long-time admirer and customer of Nolan's before the fire. "It was really tragic what happened there but I don't think that public funds should be used to finance a private business."

Vest joined a spirited debate on the Canandaigua 2020 Facebook page as well as on Nolan's Facebook page where posters questioned… and supported… the use of public funds to rebuild Nolan's.

Canandaigua officials described their role in the process as merely a "conduit" to convey the application to the state but expressed their support for the application. The Canandaigua City Council unanimously approved the step of passing the application to the state on October 5 and city manager John Goodwin pointed out that the CDBG funds were federal money passed through the state from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, money already allocated, of which a Canandaigua business would be fortunate to receive a portion. "There is a grant program out there through the federal government," he pointed out. "and if it's going to go somewhere, we'd rather it go here than go to another community."

A statement from New York State Homes and Community Renewal said that the agency sought to assist for-profit businesses and encourage the creation of jobs for low and middle income New Yorkers through its use of the CDBG program. The agency reported that it had had given out $10.7 million in CDBG funds across the state in 2016.

The requested $400,000 in grant money was a crucial element in a new financial structure for Nolan's. Before the fire, the restaurant was a tenant in its building.

Violas' plan to rebuild involved constructing a building owned by the restaurant made possible in large part by a new $800,000 loan as part of a $1.6 million plan to replace the business.

Owners of the restaurant predicted construction would begin in late November or early December with a targeted reopen date for Nolan's in 2018. Violas said the rebuilding plan was dependent upon approval of the grant request. If the request were denied, the plan would have to be "retooled" into something smaller, he said.

The application was scheduled to be considered by the Office of Community Renewal board on November 9.


Charles Molineaux

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